Staying alive is hard; keeping your clothing in-tact is harder
The girls at Hanzō National Academy never really get a break. Day in and day out these trainees work tirelessly, pushing both their minds and bodies to the absolute limit. Though grueling, they know it to be a necessity in order to one day graduate from the academy and become fully-fledged Good Shinobi, fully capable of helping protect the innocent from Evil Shinobi. You might think that their student status would protect them from the true horrors of the outside world, but that’s never been the case for Asuka and her friends. Already the girls have tackled rival schools, tyrannical villains, and even demons, and have managed to come out on top. Yet still, it looks like things aren’t over for our Shinobi fledglings. Will the Hanzō girls have what it takes to survive the trials and tribulations within Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, or is it time for another Shinobi school to become top dog?
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is a spin-off from the mainline Senran Kagura series, and comes with a plot that’s a bit less linear. Although Asuka and the rest of her friends at the Hanzō National Academy can still be considered the primary protagonists of the game, the game focuses less on them and more on the Shinobi Battle Royale, a deadly competition between Shinobi schools, and the involvement of the participating groups. At the beginning of the game, players are given the option to start with one of three schools (all of which are made up of five girls); the Good Shinobi school Hanzō National Academy (the primary protagonists of the Senran Kagura series), an all-new Good Shinobi school called the Gessen Girls’ Academy, and Evil Shinobi school Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy. A fourth group made of ex-Hebijo students, Homura’s Crimson Squad, is also playable albeit not from the start. While the overlying story arc of participation within the Shinobi Battle Royale remains constant regardless of which group is chosen, the similarities essentially stop there with each group having different reasons for joining, different stories leading up to the Royale, and even slightly different dialogues and outcomes during the actual Royale itself. The levels within each group’s story is are also all unique, making playing through all four groups easy and fun with little to no repeat in terms of story. On top of that, Shinovi Versus has a feature called “Shinobi Girl’s Hearts”; special side-stories each spanning five levels that allow players to learn more about their favorite Shinobi girls. Although not related to the main story at all and entirely skippable, each SGH segment is generally pretty entertaining and does a good job of expanding upon the backstory of each character.
At its core, Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is a fast-paced, arcade-style beat-’em-up with plenty of showmanship that challenges players to get through levels as quickly and efficiently as possible. As with previous games within the series, the levels within Shinovi versus are short and plentiful, generally requiring you to take down a horde of enemies followed by a battle with one (or more) of your fellow Shinobi. While levels take place in quite a decent variety of locations, the actual formula for each stage remains pretty constant only occasionally adding things such as time limits or requiring a certain number of kills before you can progress. As fun as the action gets, the tendency to keep the goal pretty much the exact same within each mission can get a bit stale. Fortunately, developed seems to be aware of this, and largely circumvents this problem in a few different ways such as requiring you to play as a different character in every level the first time you play it, and grading you based on your performance in each level. Conversations also occur between characters in nearly every level and while this should be a welcome addition, an odd decision on the developer’s part made it into a essence. When fighting another Shinobi, cutscenes happen incredibly frequently due to the fact that both the player and CPU are using Shinobi Transformations and Secret Arts, and are pretty consistently having their clothing ripped to shreds (all of which trigger cutscenes) and every time a cutscene is initiated, the line being spoken resets. Because of this, players generally have to choose between spacing themselves out from their enemy in order to hear the conversation (which will generally lower your grade because you took too long), or skip out on a large portion of the game’s mid-battle conversations in order to properly complete the level. It’s a relatively minor flaw and one that won’t bother a majority of players most likely, but it’s still a bit frustrating nonetheless.
A multiplayer mode, known as the Dojo, has also been implemented into Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, allowing players to compete with one another online in order to see who’s who among Shinobi. Multiplayer includes three modes; a standard Deathmatch which awards points to players as they either defeat other players or nameless baddies, a Strip Battle mode that awards players points solely for tearing the clothing off of one another, and a rather… I don’t know, “unique” mode called Understorm that has players collecting pairs of painties as they fall from the sky. All three modes support up to four players, and can be played as both free-for-all or team matches. Experience, zeni, and items can’t be won within the Dojo, which is kind of unfortunate, but the chance to show off your skills to other players is enticing enough to make you stick around for a while.
Let’s not mince words; the Senran Kagura series is one entirely devoted to fan-service, and Shinovi Versus isn’t any different. Despite the fact that both the story and gameplay are legitimately quite good, your main reason for being interested in a game like this one probably doesn’t stem from interest in either one of those things; you’re here for the girls. Fortunately for you, Shinovi Versus fires on all cylinders in order to provide you with as much fan service as possible. Playing missions not only allows players to level up the Shinobi girls through EXP accrual, but also provides players with in-game currency known as zeni. While most games would have you spend your money on boring stuff like weapons, armor, or skills, Shinovi Versus allows players to purchase new clothing and accessories, and even offers a lottery that allows you to win new pairs of lingerie for your favorite ninja gal. Purchasing new clothing would be useless if you couldn’t do anything with it of course, which is why there is a Dressing Room mode available. The Dressing Room allows players to customize each and every character how they see fit in nearly every way from her hairstyle and choice of accessories, to her outfits (both normal and Shinobi) and all the way down to her underwear. It’s probably best to admire the hard work put into your new outfit in the Dressing Room however, because you probably won’t be seeing it much once you’re actually in battle. Carefully-timed combos and Ninja Arts are both important to emerging victorious in any sort of battle within Shinovi Versus, but that isn’t all they’re good for! Both landing combos and Ninja Arts will damage your enemy’s clothing. If you can manage to land enough damage you can rip your enemy’s clothing, and possibly even her underwear, right off.
As important as the characters are to the story, it’s pretty obvious that the girls of Senran Kagura are meant to fit certain key personality types in order to make at least one of them appealing to whomever may be playing and Shinovi Versus has made an even bigger attempt to hit home with its audience by adding 10 new girls to the roster. Included in this new lineup are characters such as fashion-savvy Shiki, boyish Miyabi, and sadomasochistic twins Ryōna and Ryōbi; a little something for everyone. In all fairness however, the characters aren’t there solely just to add personalities to the list; each new Shinobi comes with her own unique skillset, play style, and stats that make it easier to find a good fit in terms of which character to play as; a win-win!
Graphically speaking, Shinovi Versus will leave players with very little to complain about. Aside from occasional instances of a character’s leg clipping through her skirt or this one weird bug I encountered that made Daidōji’s bangs gravitate toward the center of her face thus making it appear as though she had some sort of weird mustache (it only seemed to happen when she was in the Hanzō Academy hub, never in an actual level), things are largely glitch-free and competent. The frame rate of the game is also incredibly smooth and even stays consistent when battles start to get crazy. The scenery within levels, though not quite as graphically impressive as the girls themselves, were also well-done. Nothing was particularly visually stunning in terms of level design but, well, I can kind of understand why they would put most of the effort elsewhere in a case like this.
Shinovi Versus also has a solid soundtrack overall. While not containing anything groundbreaking, there are definitely a few tracks contained within the game that are memorable enough to warrant listening to a few times. While the music is most certainly enjoyable, the real audio gold lies within the voice acting. Each character is incredibly expressive, with tone and voice matching the mood and that character’s personality at all times. The acting done during the more serious scenes within the game (which occur more than you would think) are especially impressive, as they manage to successfully convey believably dark or dangerous tones in a game that is otherwise upbeat. Even those, such as myself, who don’t know even the slightest bit of Japanese could easily enjoy listening to the conversations within the game if only for the sheer quality of the voice acting.
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, like all Senran Kagura titles, is pretty niche. It’s lewd, perverted, and is charged with about as much sexual energy as it could possibly be without transcending that “M” rating. It’s definitely geared toward a specific type of audience. With that being said, Shinovi Versus is incredibly successful at what it does, even going beyond the bounds of the fan service aspect in order to create an actual game with a legitimate story and enjoyable gameplay. It’s certainly not an experience that everyone would enjoy, and that’s absolutely okay, but those willing to sit down and buckle up are in for a wild ride.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) Vita; Publisher: XSEED Games ; Developer: Tamsoft ; Players: 1-4 ; Released: June 1, 2016 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Steam review code provided by the publisher.